Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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BÉLA BARTÓK (1881-1945) Piano Concerto No. 1 (1926) * Piano Concerto No. 2 (1931) ** Piano Concerto No. 3 (1945) ***   Theo Bruins (1881-1993) (piano) * Residentie Orkest/Ernest Bour rec 1981 ** Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest/Pierre Boulez rec 1965 ***Radio Filharmonisch Orkest/David Atherton rec 1987   ARSIS CLASSICS 95005 [73.10]



This is a feast for the admirers of the artistry of Theo Bruins. Someone has clearly put some considerable effort into tracking down radio tapes of Bruins in these three concertos. The road lead to three Netherlands' radio stations. This, by the way, is Bruins in live concert with an audience and applause at the end of each work. The occasional cough is to be heard but nothing much.

The works make a predictable and logical coupling. There are excellent similar collections by Kovacevich and Kocsis among others but those are studio performances contrasting with the spontaneity of Bruins live.

Bruins does not seem to have made the international stage or if so only fleetingly. More likely he chose to avoid the international stage and made for himself a place of affection and high regard in the Netherlands.

The first concerto is an anti-romantic work. The exact opposite in demeanour to that which you might have expected from a first concerto. It is in touch with the jazziness of the cross-bred with the Rite of Spring. Even the central andante is purged of romance. There is a batteringly repetitive piano part in the finale of this most 'extra-sec' of concertos. Contemporary cousins with affinity with the Bartók include Lord Berners' Triumph of Neptune, Antheil's Jazz Symphony, Honegger's Piano Concertino, Martinu's La Bagarre and Walton's Façade.

The second concerto's hectic tumbling and cartwheeling rush recalls Shostakovich's The Bolt and Stravinsky's Concerto for piano and wind instruments - the latter a declared influence. The nocturnal middle movement inhabits Frank Bridge's similarly remote Phantasm for piano and orchestra and evokes the silence of the devastated landscapes and skeletal trench horrors of the Great War. Another reference work is the Constant Lambert piano concerto. The finale has the wild woolliness of the Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto. As is expected Boulez seemingly relishes the clarity of Bartók's open textures.

The third concerto bids fair to be the most accessible of the three. A throwaway melody spryly decorates the opening with generosity and relaxation. The second movement has a settled Coplandian peace and helpings of birdsong (not fanciful either - these were noted down by Bartok while staying at Ashville). A Mozartian simplicity is the keynote. The choppy charm of the finale suggests a mid-late Mozart piano concerto. Tibor Serly finalised last 17 bars of the Concerto but his contribution is seemingly much less than his role in the Bartók viola concerto.

These works are not necessarily the most loveable and the first concerto, as music, does seem to be rather a dry exercise. I am not a Bartók specialist and seemed to be hearing (rather than over-hearing) these works properly for the first time. The performances and recordings appear to be faithful and there is less variation in sound quality than you might have expected. I would have classed the recordings as bring fully enjoyable. A little hiss in the background but this is subservient to the concentration of the music-making.

This disc will be wanted by Bartókians, Bruins devotees, Boulez and Bour specialists. More casual listeners will find much to appreciate here not least in the cool groves of the third concerto.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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